The Trump administration on Thursday announced a proposal to allow oil drilling in virtually all US coastal waters, drawing immediate criticism from environmentalists and some Republicans.
The program ‘proposes the largest number of lease sales in US history,’ and opens 98 percent of recoverable oil and gas reserves in federally-controlled waters to development, the US Interior Department announced.
Officials said the plan calls for 47 lease sales over five years, a radical increase from the level allowed under President Barack Obama, who kept 94 percent of federal deep-water areas off limits. 
Republican Governor Rick Scott of Florida was among the early critics of the plan that is part of President Donald Trump’s ‘energy dominance’ focus, saying oil drilling threatened Florida’s natural resources, an issue that has long had bipartisan support. 
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke described the proposal as ‘a beginning’ of a process that will take into consideration the views of state officials who oppose drilling. The agency plans public meetings on the plan starting January 16.
While offshore drilling is defended as a vital source of jobs and economic development in a few states like Texas and Louisiana, many other parts of the country have vigorously fought drilling due to environmental hazards and the importance of tourism to their local economies.
Republicans governors including Maryland’s Larry Hogan and South Carolina’s Henry McMaster, have balked at offshore drilling, while the practice is politically anathema in Democratic-leaning California and northeastern states. 
‘At the end of the process, we’re going to listen to the voices of all the stakeholders,’ Zinke told reporters on a conference call. ‘Certainly Florida is going to have a say.’
The proposal calls for 19 lease sales off the coast of Alaska, seven in the Pacific, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico and nine in the Atlantic, including one for the Straits of Florida.
Zinke described the initiative as part of the Trump administration’s ‘America First’ agenda.
‘There’s a clear difference between energy weakness and energy dominance,’ Zinke said. ‘Under President Trump, we’re going to be the strongest possible superpower because we have the assets.’
Rolling back regulations
Scott said he has requested a meeting with Zinke ‘to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration.’
‘My top priority is to ensure that Florida’s natural resources are protected,’ he said in a statement.
The Sierra Club, which has launched legal challenges to  earlier pro-drilling initiatives, also blasted the policy.
‘Donald Trump and Ryan Zinke are now trying to sell out our coastal communities, our waters, and our climate in order to please corporate polluters,’ said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune.
‘Rather than listen to the people they are supposed to work for, Trump and Zinke are listening to the industry that’s bankrolled their campaigns and filled their administration.’
The announcement Thursday follows last week’s unveiling of proposed new offshore drilling regulations that would reverse safeguards put in place following the Deepwater Horizon environmental disaster in 2010.
The Interior Department said removing the requirements on safety and anti-pollution equipment is expected to save the industry $228 million over 10 years.
That proposal has drawn 179 public comments thus far, nearly all of which defend strict rules on pollution and safety standards adopted after the 2010 calamity, which killed 11 people and sent millions of barrels of crude oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico.
‘It is important to us and our environment to keep the safety regulations on offshore drilling operations that the Obama administration had implemented after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. Please don’t reverse that regulation,’ said a comment from Julie Maguire of Turtle Rescue of Long Island.